FREE GUY (2021)

It’s fine.

The best jokes are things that were clearly thrown into the background by a VFX crew who’ve spent a lot of time in GTAV or Saint’s Row, but otherwise it’s a pretty boilerplate action/comedy/romance that asks you not to think too hard about any of its pretense.

Some good throwaway cameos, visuals absolutely nail the aesthetic, cast is charismatic.

Writing’s flat, and even Taika Waititi can’t make some of the dialogue sound good. Lots of the jokes don’t really land. Pacing is all over the place, making it feel both too long but also like it doesn’t have the time to do anything more than lip service to its more interesting ideas.

It does that weird trope movies do where they show a lot of people around the world all simultaneuously watching a livestream and yelling encouragement that just feels entirely false, like they’re trying to artificially inflate investment in the stakes that people don’t really have. Stop cutting away to people who aren’t involved in the action.

Overall, an extremely medium movie. Better than Ready Player One, with about 90% less cynical brand recognition. Not sure how much that says though.

Watch it or don’t.

SHANG CHI & THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

It’s great!

The best fight sequences in the MCU spiced up with a real kind of classical martial arts film flavour. Bucks the usual Marvel first-movie formula and takes a hard right turn in wild Asian mysticism and fantasy in the back half which was a pleasant surprise.

Compelling villain (the legendary Tony Leung!) and a solid emotional through-line. Simu Liu kills it in the title role, Awkwafina brings a great levity without falling into comic movie bathos. There’s some significant deviation from the source material but it’s all for the better.

And I mentioned that the fight scenes are great fun, right? Choreography feels frantic and snappy and the editing doesn’t get in the way. Sure, the climax turns into an insane CGI party, but it feels fitting for the high fantasy turn.

A little bit Hong Kong martial arts flick, a little bit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a little bit classic MCU. Very promising for the future direction of Marvel, they’re setting the bar high for Phase Four.

Recommended!

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Absurdly violent, ridiculously silly and very, very entertaining.

The smartest move was definitely to just ignore that they made one of these in 2016 and throw a whole pile of fresh C-list characters into the grinder.

Never once takes itself seriously, yet manages to take enough time to bring an emotional core to each of these assholes to make the stakes stick and the action meaningful.

Soundtrack’s great, characters are fun, story is appropriately bonkers. Most importantly, it’s a good time!

Easily the best DC film, requires zero comic knowledge to enjoy.

Definitely recommended.

MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Is it a bad movie?

Yes.

Is it the good sort of entertaining?

Also yes.

Some brilliantly ridiculous action stacked in around long stretches of flat exposition and some weird character choices.

The plot’s a mess and the acting’s stilted but it’s also fun when it’s chewing scenery and revelling in being the most Mortal Kombat it can be.

Highlights are the Scorpion/SubZero sequences (which sadly only stack up to around 20min of runtime bookending the main story), and some gloriously, hilariously gruesome FX.

Unfortunately it doesn’t really manage to keep the same gleefully ridiculous momentum it starts out with, but it does ultimately end on the right side of a good time and works as a decent enough setup for a completely bonkers sequel if they really go for it.

Worth a watch if you’ve got no higher expectations than some schlocky, trashy fun.

THE LAST OF US: Part II (2020)

What a ride. Brutal, bleak and uncompromising in its determination to make you feel every twist of the knife and to question your part in how far Eillie is willing to go for revenge.

It’s significantly longer than I was expecting, which at first I thought was a fault, but the back half actually contains and surpasses much of the emotion and spectacle of the first, and of the original game, and I found its bolder choices always backed up its thesis statement that violence begets violence.

This is an unpleasant lesson, of course, and Naughty Dog’s stubborn refusal to sway from making you truly feel that these are almost exclusively terrible people while investing significant time and effort into making you empathise with them is a large part of what will make this game stand out long after the naysayers have gotten over the fact that this is not a fanservice sequel but rather a direct continuation of the consequence of the choices that very flawed people made in the first game.

Yes, it is at times tropey. Yes, it is at time quite ham-fisted in what it is trying to convey. Yes, it seems like it could have ended cleanly in more than a few places. But ultimately it’s unafraid to shy from the sort of harshness that makes something like The Road both miserable and incredible at once, and that lingers long after the credits.

It is staggeringly well crafted, beautiful and horrifying to look at, emotionally draining and tense throughout.

Ignore the hate, make up your own damn mind. There’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind journey into darkness to be found here.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

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